Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#FactsMatter: Nonfiction Graphic Novel Series for Tweens and Teens

So this year we are trying to talk more about nonfiction. So how about some nonfiction in graphic novel form? There are a lot of great nonfiction graphic novel series out there, including some great biographies (They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka), a lot at Civil Rights (The March series by John Lewis), and even a look at the events of 9/11. Today, though, I want to share some ongoing nonfiction graphic novel series with you. Sometimes I just like series because I like to have items that are connected under the same heading and branding.

Big Ideas That Changed the World

The Big Ideas That Changed the World series by Abrams takes a look at – well – big ideas that changed the world. There are currently 3 books and they look at vaccines, computers and the rocket to the moon. I hope they add more titles to the series.

History Comics

There are more than 3 books in the History Comics series by Macmillan and they cover some pretty interesting topics, including the Challenger disaster and the mystery of the Roanoke Colony. For people who maybe don’t love history – and by people, I might mean me – it can be a great way to dive into topics you want to learn more about but don’t want to read through long, heavy tomes.

Science Comics

Look, more science! This series is also by Macmillan. There are around 25 titles in this series and they cover a good variety of topics, including the digestive system, coral reefs, and plagues. Again, it’s a great introduction to topics with a fun, stylistic approach.

Maker Comics

What do you know, it’s another nonfiction graphic novel series by Macmillan. This series covers great topics with a very how to approach and it’s great for the maker movement. From cooking to gardening to understanding the basics of the scientific method, you’ll find something for everyone in one of these 9 titles. This is another series I hope continues for a long time.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales

Back to history for this series, which is once again by Abrams. This covers a wide variety of topics and blends fun with informative. I love this it covers topics like the Donner party and spies. And for your Hamilton fans, there is one on Lafeyette.

Graphic novels are wicked popular and a great for a wide variety of people (they’re not just for kids!) And it’s great to see that more and more graphic novels are tackling nonfiction, which is also very popular (and not just for kids!) Facts are fun, and we want to raise up a generation of informed and information seeking readers, so I’m so glad that these series exist.

For more of our #FactsMatter posts, check out the archvies

Facts Can be Fun: Middle Grade and Teen Nonfiction Series

Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite nonfiction series for middle grade students and teens as part of our #FactsMatter series. So let’s dive in . . .

History Smashers by Kate Messner

Much of what we know about history has been white washed and watered down. Prolific middle grade author Kate Messner has started a new, engaging nonfiction series for readers to help present a more factual look at the past in a fun and informative way.

Basher Basics

The Basher Basics series is a very quick reference series that is very accessible to those who are trying to dive into a new subject in a safe, fun way. It’s very small, bite size information presented in a fun format. The title on the periodic table is particularly useful.

Who Was . . . ?

The Who Was (also What Was and Who Is) series introduces younger nonfiction fans to a variety of historical figures and events. It’s incredibly popular and another great introduction. It’s even great for teens and adults who want to learn about a topic but don’t want to read a 1,000 page esoteric biography.

Enviro Infographics

With the Pacific Northwest melting into the ground and the ocean on fire, a lot of us are talking about Climate Change. In fact, I think a lot of adults don’t understand how much of a emotional burden Climate Change is on our young people. This series uses infographics to help put the discussion into perspective for all. I love infographics because I think they help us conceptualize facts, figures and data into ways that our brains can understand. If you like infographics, author Steve Jenkins also has some great titles on data about the Earth and animals in infographics form.

One Big Fat Notebook

I just don’t have these in the library, I personally own several and have used the math one frequently to look up how to do various types of problems to help Thing 2 with her math homework. They are really great overviews of topics and easy to use and understand. I recommend them to everyone, including every friend who says they have a hard time helping their kid with their math homework.

Barron’s Painless

Have an older student? You might need to move up to the Barron’s Painless series for homework help. Or better yet, have both this and the One Big Fat Notebook together to help tackle Chemistry and Physics.

Pocket Change Collective

The Pocket Change Collective is a series that looks at social issues from modern day activists. They cover topics of interest to a lot of teens in a very engaging format.

I’m always looking for new nonfiction series for my readers, so if you have suggestions please leave them in the comments. Let’s get some good information on our shelves for readers who are trying to figure out how to navigate the issues they keep hearing about in the news or are experiencing in their lives.

#FactsMatter Primer: The What, Who, and Why of Middle Grade and Teen Nonfiction

The overarching theme for 2021 here at TLT is #FactsMatter. Our goal is to take a deep dive into middle grade and teen/young adult nonfiction. We’ve already had a lot of great posts and will continue this deep dive throughout the year. Today I am taking you through a little bit of a walk through of what that journey has looked like for me personally as a public librarian. Here’s a little primer about the what, who and why of middle grade and teen nonfiction and why it matters.

Did You Know That Nonfiction Can Be Broken Down into Various Types of Nonfiction?

When I began my quest to learn more about nonfiction, I recently stumbled upon the realization that nonfiction is generally divided into 5 types of nonfiction. I was definitely aware of some of it; for example, I am very aware of narrative nonfiction. But the overall discussion was fascinating to me as I took a deep dive into the depths of nonfiction. A great resource when seeking to learn more about nonfiction can be found in educator Melissa Stewart. She has an overview of the 5 Types of Nonfiction here: https://www.melissa-stewart.com/img2018/pdfs/5_Kinds_of_Nonfiction/2_5KNF_an_Update.pdf. I recommend poking around her website to learn more about particularly middle grade nonfiction. It’s a great resource and just like with fiction reader’s advisory, knowing what kinds of nonfiction are out there and how they connect with readers can help you connect readers to the nonfiction in your collection.

Who Gets to Write Nonfiction?

This year as we are focusing more on talking about and elevating nonfiction as part of our #FactsMatter project, I was interested in this article in Horn Book about the challenges the BIPOC writers face. More Than a Footnote by Carole Boston Weatherford talks specifically about the challenges that nonfiction authors of color face when trying to break into the nonfiction book market for kids. In addition to just being an all around good discussion, I also learned a bit about some more titles and authors to seek out. You can read that article here: https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=more-than-a-footnote-challenges-for-bipoc-nonfiction-authors. As we talk about nonfiction, I think it is also important for us to explore who is writing the nonfiction that we share.

Promoting diverse authors is always important in matters of representation but also, there is something to be said about authority and authenticity when it comes to nonfiction as well as fiction. I know that for me, as a woman, I appreciate reading nonfiction about women’s history more when it comes from an author who understands the emotional connection and has more first hand experience about what it means to be a woman in this world than when a man writes about the same topic. That first hand knowledge and experience can make all of the difference in how facts and data are applied to real life experiences. Facts matter, research matters, but so does having the ability to put those facts into a real world context.

How Do We Fight Misinformation?

The last few years have really highlighted the importance of quality nonfiction. Misinformation and outright conspiracy theories have played a huge and important role in everything from local politics to the recent insurrection at the nation’s capitol. Now that same misinformation is being used across the country in support of vast legislation that has the potential to dramatically change the landscape of our voting rights. The Atlantic has an article on what libraries can – and can’t – do to fight the QAnon conspiracy phenomenon. You can check that out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2021/02/how-librarians-can-fight-qanon/618047/.

Here are some more articles on libraries trying to fight disinformation:


I think the idea of how, exactly, librarians can help fight misinformation in the 21st century is of particular interest, and importance, and is part of the reason why we set out here at TLT to embark on this project. And though I don’t think that information literacy alone will save us, I think it’s always a good goal. Next time, I will highlight some organizations that have the specific goal of addressing information literacy and misinformation.

The Book for Our Times: True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

On Monday, you saw that TLT announced that it’s 2021 focus project will be #FactsMatter, a deep dive into nonfiction and information literacy. Earlier this year, I bought this book which seems like the book of our times. We hear a lot about “Fake News”, so this book is timely and so very needed.

A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News

by Cindy L. Otis

Publisher’s Book Description

“If I could pick one book to hand to every teen—and adult—on earth, this is the one. True or False is accessible, thorough, and searingly honest, and we desperately needed it.” —Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

A former CIA analyst unveils the true history of fake news and gives readers tips on how to avoid falling victim to it in this highly designed informative YA nonfiction title.

“Fake news” is a term you’ve probably heard a lot in the last few years, but it’s not a new phenomenon. From the ancient Egyptians to the French Revolution to Jack the Ripper and the founding fathers, fake news has been around as long as human civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the idea of finding the truth.

In True or False, former CIA analyst Cindy Otis will take readers through the history and impact of misinformation over the centuries, sharing stories from the past and insights that readers today can gain from them. Then, she shares lessons learned in over a decade working for the CIA, including actionable tips on how to spot fake news, how to make sense of the information we receive each day, and, perhaps most importantly, how to understand and see past our own information biases, so that we can think critically about important issues and put events happening around us into context.

True or False includes a wealth of photo illustrations, informative inserts, and sidebars containing interesting facts and trivia sure to engage readers in critical thinking and analysis.

Brief Thoughts

This book received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all YA and High School collections. It was also recommended by several people on Twitter today when I asked about books to beef up a library collection on information and digital literacy. It’s tone, mixture of graphics and text and insight are all greatly valuable and readable.

#FactsMatter: The 2021 Project Focusing on Nonfiction and Information Literacy

At TLT, we have often focused on middle grade and young adult fiction when we talk about books. But if there is anything that the last year of our lives have shown us, it’s that we have done our world a disservice. We have done our youth a disservice. Each year Teen Librarian Toolbox announces a yearly project, an area of focus to guide us. This year we will be focusing on juvenile and teen nonfiction and information literacy. This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to talk about, read, and review fiction, it just means that we will be working hard to highlight nonfiction titles as well.

And we could use your help, as always, with our yearly project.

If you are an author, a teacher, a librarian or a publisher, please contact us to write a guest post, talk about your book, or share what you are doing in the classroom or in your libraries to help your youth become informed consumers of information. Share your favorite resources, tools, etc. If you have a topic that fits and want a space to share it, we are here for you.

If you would like to participate by writing a post, please fill out this Google Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe7-unzEqgqmOZdwKa_0hZ5NOa_Q1gFlzGpkmnJvsDqfdY90w/viewform?usp=sf_link

Keep checking back here as we will try and update this post periodically with links to all of the posts after 2021 kicks off, so that all the posts are in one place.

Join TLT as We Interview Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls on Tuesday, October 27

Tomorrow, October 27th at 6:00 PM Central, I will have the honor of interviewing author Kate Moore about her book, The Radium Girls.


The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

Join us on Tuesday for a discussion by registering here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_f5xjGiXoQi6cMRtn6OpkmQ

You’re graduating high school, now what?

I stayed up all night last night reading an ARC of GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A. S. King (dear lord people, so much glorious goodness coming this fall – make a note to read it!). This book is many amazing things, but it perfectly captures that moment when you graduate from high school and realize you have to figure out what comes next. For a lot of teens, the what next is college. For some, like Glory, it is a gap year. For others, it is straight to work.

Yesterday we talked about high school, but here are a couple of books from Zest Books that can help us all with the moments that come after high school.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College by Halley Bondy

I’m not going to lie, my favorite item in this book was number 23: Spend quality time in the library . . . without doing homework. I was lucky enough to go to college in a town with two colleges, and the other college – Kenyon College – had the most amazing bookstore ever. We used to go all the time and hang out there; you would find wondrous things that you never knew existed. If you ever find yourself in Mount Vernon Ohio, go there. Even if you are kinda maybe a little bit close, drive in for a visit.

Some other good tips include taking a class that has nothing to do with your major, learn a language you’ve never studied, try a sport you’ve never tried (intramurals can be a good way to do this), and join an a capella group (or at least watch the movie Pitch Perfect and do this vicariously). And as an aside, many of these will apply to those who choose an alternate, non-college plan after high school. You can even find alternate ways to do some of the education related ones – like study a language or take a class outside of your major – by using your local library resources or taking a local community class.
Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan
The truth is, most of us don’t have our lives figured out when we graduate high school. I changed majors mid-stream and have a whole extra year of credits (and debt!) to show for it. Want to know what’s even better? I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry that I basically don’t use (although I will admit the info was very informative to being a YA librarian). And college isn’t the right choice for everyone. And sadly, for many teens, it isn’t really an option at all.Undecided is a pretty good look at the many options that one has after high school, including not only higher education but military services and internships. There is a brief section on gap years (I just like saying gap years because I only learned they were called that last year – in a YA book no less!). Undecided also acknowledges the issue of money and has a chapter dedicated to budgets and planning. I really liked that this section talked about debt and acknowledged that anything they said in the book might already be irrelevant because the conversation kept changing so quickly: “Media reports regularly address what is going on with student loan debt, and things are changing so fast that what I tell you today probably will be out of date tomorrow” (page 68).  But the reality is, “Many college students and grads (even not-so-recent grads) are shackled by debt and the inability to get a job with a high enough salary to pay off that debt” (page 69). I thought the end advice was very spot on: “Take on as little debt as possible to pay for your education – even if this means needing more time to get your degree and working. Or going to a state school instead of a private college. If you do get a loan, read your contract carefully” (page 70).

So while I thought 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College was fun and even insightful, I found Undecided to be a very important and helpful tool. Of course one is aimed more at high school students who are trying to figure out what comes after high school and the other is aimed at students who are past that point and are already in college.  They both meet their stated goals and are good resources.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish High School by Halley Bondy. Zest Books, 2014. 191 pages. ISBN: 978-1-936976-00-3.

Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan. Zest Books, 2014. 247 pages. ISBN: 978-1-93676-32-4.

Duct Tape! Check out Sticky Fingers, plus learn from my mistakes – cool tips

I own no less than 20 rolls of Duck/Duct Tape. Okay, technically I bought them for the Tween. But you know, I get to play with them too! Plus, I have regular Duct Tape crafting days at the library. Suffice it to say at this point, I am an expert on Duct Tape crafts.

In fact, I have some important tips for you:

1. Don’t use scissors! Buy an exacto knife and a cutting mat. So much easier to use. If you do use scissors, have lots of Goo Gone on hand to keep cleaning your scissors.

2. To make strips, you can in fact use a scrapbook paper cutter thingy. They look like this. They work wonders. I find this particularly useful to make strips to make a piece of “duct tape material” as it is sometimes called, which you can use, for example, as a duct tape wallet base.

3. You can save little pieces you cut off, like corners and such, on a removable surface, like the backside of your cutting mat, and use them to make picture collages on canvas. Or folders.

4. Once a piece of duct tape gets stuck to itself there is no saving it. Just throw it away and get a new piece.

5. Always make sure you have solid color options to balance the cool print options.

I have shared several posts of some of my favorite activities and books, but here is a new book coming out in July from Zest Books called Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects by Sophie Maletsky (ISBN: 978-1-936976-54-6)

I love the step-by-step instructions in full color! And how the activities are not the same ole’, same ole’ activities again.

Duct Tape Crafts and Even More Duct Tape Crafts

Life Hacks with The How To Handbook (Plus, some of my favorite Life Hacks posts/resources)


noun: life hack 
1. a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.
If you spend any time at Buzzfeed or Pinterest, you know that Life Hacks are a thing. Kitchen hacks, school hacks, craft hacks . . . you can always find fun posts that highlight fast and creative ways to solve a problem, re-use an item, etc. I am obsessed with finding fun and creative life hacks.
But here’s the truth, I don’t do very many of them because, well, I am not overly domestic. True story. So kitchen hacks? Cool, but not practical for me because I avoid the kitchen like the plague.

So then I was reading this story about how teens don’t know how to do a lot of the basic skills that we used to take for granted because no one is teaching them.  Know how to sew on a button? Most teens don’t. Know how to tie a knot or pitch a tent? Sadly, a lot of teens don’t.

Every time I see the book The How-to-Handbook I keep thinking that I want to put together a program series called Life Hacks – perfect for a series of Throw Back Thursday themed programs – where we teach teens how to do these basic types of skills. Family Circle has a really good highlight of some of the things we need to make sure teens know, including money skills and clothing skills (there’s that sewing on a button thing again).
And because of the cover of the The How-to-Handbook, I always think I want to do is as an old school badging program. Or, if you want, electronic badges. In my mind it is set up in one of two ways:

1) Do it over spring break with a different themed day every day. Set up stations where tweens and teens do different tasks.  For example, you could have a clothing themed day where at one station they sew a button, in another they sort baskets of clothes for washing, and in another they fold fitted sheets. And a lot of these activities can be turned into types of relay games to make it fun.

or . . .

2) Do a series of Thursday programs (because, you know, Throwback Thursday) for say a month. Again, each week of the month gets a theme.  You can also throw in some old school board and video games. And crafts!

Here’s a look at some of my favorite skills in the book that I think might make for good elements in the series:
Part 1: Everyday Essentials
Manage Your Money
Pack a Suitcase (this could be a fun racing type game)
Wrap a Gift
Part 2: Looking and Smelling Good
Iron a Pair of Pants
 Tie a Bowtie/Tie a Tie
Part 3: Get to Know Your Kitchen
Kitchen essentials
Set a table
Eat a balanced meal
Part 4: Clean Up Like a Pro
Clean your room in five minutes
Do the laundry
Fold a fitted sheet (again, another fun relay type activity could be done here)
Unstick chewing gum
Part 5: Do It Yourself
Fix a flat
Pitch a tent
Sew on a button
Part 6: Emergency Skills 101
Dress a cut
Extract a splinter
Help a choking victim
Take a pule
And of course you could add to this in any way you wanted to. Basic computer skills, job seeking skills, etc.

Here are some of my favorite LifeHack posts/resources:
Huffington Post: 20 DIY Lifehacks with Office Junk that will Blow Your Mind
Tumblr: Daily Life Hacks on Teenager Posts
Bored Panda: 40 Life Hacks That Will Change Your Life
Buzzfeed: 26 Clever and Inexpensive Crafting Hacks
Lifehacker.com: Tons of life hacks

Please people, feed my obsession! Share your favorite Life Hacks in the comments.

Take 5: Your High School Survival Pack

Some people are busy preparing to survive the zombie apocalypse, but the truth is there is something much harder that we all have to survive – High School!

Don’t get me wrong, there were some awesome things about high school. Friday night football games are fun. First love is fun (and terrifying). Watching scary movies with friends, also fun. But I would definitely not want to go back and do it again. Nope, not at all.

So here are some tools to help you – or someone you love – survive high school. While preppers are busy hoarding food and building underground tunnels, all you need is to throw a few good books in your survival pack. And I know just the books . . .

Real teens share their high school stories and survival tips. Been There is divided into 3 sections: Social advice, Academic advice, and Practical advice.  This is a very practical guide for not only your Freshman year, but just your middle school and high school years in general as only some of the advice would specific to your Freshman year.  The advice is real, and you can tell it is written by real teens.  What’s the number 1 thing not to do while making new friends? Fart of course.  And yet there is some real honest, raw and heartfelt advice given here: For instance, it can be really disorienting when your best friend since 3rd grade starts eating lunch somewhere else . . . But your friend’s behavior probably has very little to do with you.  Maybe he’s wanting to expand his own circle of friends. . . Friends come and go, and losing and gaining friends is all part of the experience of growing up and . . . surviving high school (page 18).

Forget the Oxford English Dictionary, THIS is the dictionary you need. From acne to varsity, this mock dictionary provides you with humor and insight into high school life. Want an example, look at this entry for GPA:

I get parents coming in a lot and asking for books to help their kids learn how to study. We talk about studying, but we don’t often really teach kids/teens HOW to do it. This is a really informative guide that helps you get organized, learn techniques, and discusses things like how to take notes and understanding your teachers expectation. At 135 pages it tackles the topic without being exhaustive and overwhelming.

Every time my Tween opens her backpack I cringe and shudder, simultaneously. Papers are shoved inside, all wrinkled and chaos. Then she cries because she can’t find the paper she needed to tell her how to do her science project. She needs this book! Where’s My Stuff is an older title, but one of my favorites because it discusses things like organizing your backpack, organizing your school work, organizing your room and even organizing your time. A little organization can help you be so much more successful in school.

I am a complete sucker for a book of lists. They’re fun and browseable, and who doesn’t like to go through them and mentally check things off? This title is not only a fun list, but it gives a brief overview of some interesting topics like connecting with a role model and ending a argument. The items are divided into various categories including things to do for in each category. The categories are highlighted here with examples in parenthesis: Things to do for your personal development (attend a theater performance, develop the art of conversations, make a public speech), with or for friends (make a gift, start a book club, take a road trip), with or for family (record an oral history, make peace with a sibling, cook a three-course meal), for you body (establish an exercise routine, determine your blood type, study food labels, learn about safe sex), get to know the world around you (create a comic strip, design a t-shirt, write a real letter), to benefit your community and environment (volunteer, go green, understand how a farm works), because you should (write a resume, learn basic car maintenance, learn CPR) and, finally, because you’re only young once (confess a crush, build a bonfire, bury a time capsule).

Guess what? You can win this high school survival pack – for you, for your library, for someone you love. Just do the Rafflecopter thingy below for a variety of ways to enter. Open through the end of this week to U.S. residents.